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In many ways the fascination with the gothic style of art, represented by music, literature, film, and others, is nothing more than a way for the observer to escape from real life and its many responsibilities. Gothic art claims to be profound and contain great esoteric meaning with life changing impact, yet the characters and the message are more often weak, unproductive, crippled, or even mad. Examples of this flaw in the argument in favor of the gothic imagination are given in the works by Beethoven, Goethe, Rice, and Gilman. It will be revealed that these authors have been misguided often by their own escapist nature to create a false reality and promote it as meaningful. In truth, the gothic imagination is the imagination of those who are looking for an excuse for their laziness and purpose behind their protective depression.
There is no question that the work of Beethoven are tremendous and phenomenal. His talent as a composer has rarely been closely met. The maturation of his compositions show a growth of important musical literature that admitted have changed the world within and without the realm of music. This fact has been a powerful tool carried by those promoting the gothic imagination for far too long. It is true that Beethoven was deaf and that he had difficult relations with his family as well as various women in his life. This gives no call for belief that he was any different than any of the other millions of people in the world that have been in the same situation. It is suggested that his great works were due to his suffering and gothic mind. It is suggested that he struggled and transcended because he was a gothic hero. The abuse of the contributions of such a remarkable musician is almost in excusable. In attempts to justify their own suffering and to give excuse for their inability to operate within normal human society, the gothics will say that Beethoven was misunderstood, suffered, and died miserably, and so will they. They have given up to the world and now feel justified in doing so.
Beethoven was a man with a great amount of talent and influence in his world which does set him apart somewhat from others. He also had a great deal of pain in his life which sets him apart from very few others in this world.
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"Misguided Gothic Authors." 123HelpMe.com. 17 Jan 2019
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Many have suggested that Goethe was one of the great gothic minds of all time. His products such as Faust: A Tragedy and The Sorrows of Young Werther are often used to support this claim. The idea that Goethe had a literary license and a gothic mind has offended many in light of his portrayal of Faust as satanic figure that is redeemed in the end. Though not originally responsible for the slandering of the name of Faust, a German schoolteacher and 16th century patron to the archbishop of Cologne, his famous work has forever captured and corrupted minds into thinking that devil worship is okay so long as you feel bad about it later. He even goes so far, in his play, to make Mephistopheles as a fairly likable character. The gothic imagination has been used far too often as a vehicle for the promotion of evil and devil worship. A protective wall has been built in society to excuse blasphemy as art, and the core of these violations lies in the hands of authors like Goethe when he claims the work of Faust as merely creative expression.
The Sorrows of Young Werther is not so intermingled with the practice of devil worship, but it cannot be denied that there was a great negative influence that the novel had on the society of the time. The main character, Werther, subjects himself needlessly to self inflicted suffering and then kills himself in what is promoted as a heroic effort. A sound minded individual would have realized the gravity of the situation regarding his feeling toward Charlotte and moved on with his life in respect to her as well as her fiancé. The insertion of his troubles into their lives is in following with those who are inept of responsibility and take any course of action to martyr themselves and escape from the sometimes more difficult path of any proper course of action. When Werther address Wilhelm, "Yes, you are right; it would be better for me to leave." (Goethe 136) he is acknowledging the failure of his actions, though he carries on with his madness to no purpose but his own self glorifying martyrdom. Werther hides from the truth, sacrifices himself needlessly, and potentially destroys others as he falls the downward spiral. This all occurs due to the escapist nature sold by Goethe in the novel.
Such a message in his novel would be bad enough if it were not for the effect it had on the contemporary society. People who were suffering due to any combination of difficulties in their lives took the actions of Werther as a model and tragically ended their lives feeling justified by Goethe's work. When they were faced with a troubled road, as Werther had been, they found the novel an invitation to escape their pain through suicide -- the final escape for those who cannot face reality. It is evident that the gothic imagination here directly fuels the escapist senses, and this example touches the most tragic results. Again the gothic hero hides behind the mask of art to sew the seeds of denial.
There are a number of people in this world who find that slipping away into their dreams of a better life or at least an alternate life is not only a frequented state but a preferred one. Anne Rice uses the troubled mind of Triana to tell a story of death, sorrow, and eventual deliverance. The only problem with this story is that real life and the fantasy novel are most often quite different. The gothic imagination promotes the idea that being conversant with alternate realities is a positive thing bringing enlightenment or a greater understanding. That being familiar with the illusory, macabre, and fantastic somehow makes someone a hero and in a special category. The stories written indicate that having invisible friends is ultimately healthy for someone and will bring some kind of closure to all of the suppressed pain in one's life. If this were true, we'd all be prescribed heroine for depression. The truth, is that Anne Rice's tale Violin only shows a fake world where denial and isolation are the keys to emotional well being. The novel suggests that dwelling on the past, at the cost of living in the present, will eventually lead to an answer and make everything okay. Readers that allow themselves to be sold on these ideas will find that they have only themselves to blame when they are left with only their imaginary accomplishments that no one recognizes and have lost all their connections to the real world. Of course, the gothic imagination seems to suggest that there is some sort of great value to this tragic concept, and that being a shiftless dreamer is justified because one is misunderstood and most likely a hero, wise beyond his years, and swiftly enroute for transcendence.
Anne Rice openly reveals her suggestion that this great experience of enlightenment is much like drunkenness in her description of the gift of Beethoven:
What was it, this orgy of sound, this outpouring that became so natural that I had no doubt of it? This trance into which I could slip, finding the notes and cutting them loose in certain strokes of will, with prancing and eager fingers. (Rice 234)
The passage leads ultimately to the message that Triana has found great success be it in her dreams and imaginary recluse. Her accomplishment is not real. This is Anne Rice's great contribution to the gothic imagination though Violin.
Charlotte Gilman's The Yellow Wall Paper specifically touches on the issue of madness and oppression. The author uses the first person perspective on the issues to bring about a correlation of the two in such a manner that the reader can easily see how irrational behavior and distance from normality are justified when one feels oppressed, whether true or otherwise. This kind of message is common in gothic literature and again lends to the argument that the genre's nature is that of escape and denial. The story blames outsiders' restriction of the main character to a room filled with confusion and locked up complete with barred windows for the eventual loss of sanity. This message can be especially prone to teenagers and other young adults who are only just beginning to understand the give and take relationship of the world. With encouragement such as this, it is unlikely they will ever learn to take responsibility for their own actions and will forever blame others for repressing them and causing their misfortune.
The gothic imagination has had its potentially dangerous influence on its readers protected by the umbrella of art since its creation. In reality, gothic art forms have done more to remove the winds of society than to empower them. The prominent message of gothic literature has historically been to revel in ones selfishness and find escape, denial, and blame. The admiration of such arts is dangerous, and the future of society would be better off if we would remove our scapegoats, blinders, and gothic artists so we can take responsibility for our lives for a change.
1.) Encarta. "Beethoven, Ludwig van," Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft (R) Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.
2.) Gilman, Charlotte. "The Yellow Wallpaper." American Gothic Tales. Ed. Joyce Carol Oats. pg. 87-102. Penguin Group. New York, NY. 1996.
3.) Goethe. "The Sorrows of Young Werther." Vintage Classics. New York, NY. 1971
4.) Rice, Anne. "Violin." Alfred A. Knopf. Toronto, Canada. 1997